Richland restaurant angers many after upside-down flag

By the Herald staff December 2, 2009 

RICHLAND -- An American flag that was flown upside-down for several hours outside a Mexican restaurant in Richland set off a storm of angry phone calls and e-mails Tuesday.

The messages accused the owners of Chapala Express at 1028 Lee Blvd. of disrespect for the flag and urged people to boycott the business.

But restaurant manager Flora Mendoza said the incident, which occurred Friday, was just an unfortunate mistake by an employee.

Mendoza said it was corrected about three hours later right after a customer came in and asked why the flag was not being flown correctly.

"We just wanted to say thank you to our country, but we didn't do it right," Mendoza said Tuesday. "I apologize for this. We're citizens too, and we're very sorry."

Mendoza said she was inundated with angry phone calls for most of the day.

"I've been crying and crying," Mendoza said. "A lot of people calling said terrible bad things. But I guess we have to pay for our mistakes."

Richland police Capt. Mike Cobb said he has known Mendoza for years and believes she never would have flown Old Glory upside-down on purpose.

"They're very kind, gracious and supportive people," said Cobb, who heard an earful from a distraught Mendoza when he dined at the restaurant Tuesday along with some other Richland officers. "They were saddened by the mistake. It was definitely not intentional," he said.

Aaron Burks, who has owned Monterosso's Italian Restaurant for 15 years, said his staff at the restaurant located behind Chapala Express had fielded at least a dozen calls, some from as far away as Texas, about the flag.

Pictures circulating on the internet showing a sandwich board for Monterosso's on the sidewalk in front of Chapala Express caused some confusion about who the flag belongs to, Burks said.

"It is scary that we have already had numerous calls here at Monterosso's Italian Restaurant from people upset about the flag at Chapala -- and calling the wrong restaurant," Burks said. "... We are in no way affiliated with Chapala."

Burks said he was worried about the impact on his business and, more importantly, the safety of his employees because people have become so outraged about the incident.

Some people don't believe it was a mistake.

Daniel Washam of Kennewick, who called the Herald about the incident, said he had called the restaurant and was told it was a mistake, but he thinks that's unlikely.

"How can you be in the country more than six minutes and not know how to fly Old Glory?" he asked.

"I believe people need to stand up for themselves in what they believe in," Washam added. "It's an American pride thing."

Mike Wingfield of Richland also was upset about the flag's display. He said when he spoke to the restaurant manager she was more interested in blaming the messenger for circulating the photo of the upside-down flag than in apologizing for the mistake.

"I'm concerned that perhaps because of a cultural or language barrier that Chapala Express doesn't understand the ramifications of what they've done. I'm concerned they're more worried about this being on the internet than the fact that they've offended people. My family and I have eaten there numerous times over the years, and it saddens me that this could have been done intentionally," Wingfield said.

He said he doesn't understand how the flag could be upside-down unintentionally.

"The flag was removed from the pole and put on upside-down. It's a flag that you buy affixed to the pole, and it was removed from the pole and put on upside down. I don't understand how that can happen," Wingfield said.

Wingfield said the only way he will return to the restaurant is if the owners issue "a simple apology to the veterans of our country in the paper or on the reader-board in front of the restaurant."

The flag code states, "The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property," according to www.ushistory.org.

-- More information about American flag history and rules is at www.ushistory.org/betsy/

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